None of this, though, should be mistaken for sentimentality. Three years since the proudest moment in the club’s history, and only two after its maiden appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals, Leicester City is almost unrecognizable.
It has wheeled through three managers since the departure of the man who delivered the title, Claudio Ranieri, and is on its third head of player recruitment in three years. It has sold not only the likes of Kanté and Mahrez, but also Harry Maguire, brought in a year after the title was won, and now the most expensive defender in history. It has lost scouts and analysts to its rivals, all of them keen not only to strengthen themselves but to weaken an insurgent. Most tragically, of course, it lost the man everyone connected to Leicester calls Khun Vichai, the owner whose clear vision and deep pockets helped it sweep through the leagues, right to the summit.
Though a handful of members from the title-winning squad remain, only two, the goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and the striker Jamie Vardy, are core components of Brendan Rodgers’s current team. Surrounding them now are a clutch of bright young things. Some of them, like Ben Chilwell and Hamza Choudhury, were drawn from Leicester’s own youth system. Others, like James Maddison, were recruited from lower down England’s league pyramid. More still, like Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans, arrived from abroad.
This has been Leicester’s velvet revolution: quiet and respectful, but ruthless, too. There was a time when it seemed Leicester might be weighed down by the memory of 2016, when loyalty to the players who had done the impossible appeared likely to hamstring the club.
The squad’s power was widely believed to have been a defining factor in Ranieri’s demise, and in the appointment of Craig Shakespeare, Ranieri’s assistant, as his successor. The failure of Claude Puel, who came next, to win over those players ultimately cost him his job, too, despite the reservations of ownership about the optics of another managerial change. Leicester, at times, seemed to be struggling to overcome its own success.
Now, though, the club is in the rudest of health, with an ambitious, promising squad; a charismatic manager in Rodgers; and, in Vardy and Schmeichel, two unifying, experienced figures in the changing room, embodiments of the spirit of 2016. And crucially, all of it is coming together at a time when so many members of England’s traditional Big Six are in a moment of uncertainty, trapped between generations.